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Friday, 9 April 2010

Exhibition Diary - Passing the litmus test

The exhibition took place over two rooms and a hallway in my house, visitors were first shown to The Middle Room, which contained The Family Event Installation. Each visitor entered this space alone, or in pairs and were told, by me, that they could spend as much time as they liked with the work, and could touch all of it. When they emerged from The Middle Room visitors were shown next door to The Lounge in which documentation from 'The Family Event July 2009' could be found. This room also functioned as the place in which visitors  could, if they wished, respond to their own experience of the installation, through a number of suggested means, including chatting to me over a cup of tea. 

The creation of The Lounge involved consulting my family as to how they would like their experience, during the July event, to be shown. With the help of my friend Meg Parnell I made decisions about how to transform 'The Lounge' into a space that could both show a response to the installation and be an enviroment that would enable new responses to be executed. I wanted to create a space that felt like a lounge still, where visitors were relaxed and wanted to spend time, looking, talking to me and responding to the installation. I decided to 'embed' the documentation into the room, so that it was not immediately obvious that the family 'snaps' around the room document one art even - rather their meaning emerges as you begin to move around the room, therefore not interfering with the visitors own recent experience of the installation and their response, unless they wanted to incorporate it.

The work in the Lounge consisted of photography bt Andrew Brooks, a film of The Family Event July 2009 by Amanda Ravetz, sketch books and interpretation (art books) relating to the project as a whole and objects made by my family during the event, some of which needed repairing, and 're-presenting'
(Label from the exhibition preview) 'The Rabbit in the room.

This rabbit is present because of a conversation I had with my brother Ben in which I asked how he would like the work he made at the family event to displayed. His groups mini installation featured a model of a rabbit inspired by the dead one in my installation but brought ‘back to life’ wearing the straw hat and holding the suitcase also from my installation.
Ben said there should be a giant rabbit at the preview watching the family event film on TV. I liked the idea as it fits with the rabbit that has come to haunt me, first appearing when I found one dead in Cornwall as a child, then transformed into a sculpture for this installation and turned into a clay sculpture by Ben at the family event. My memory of the rabbit has been passed on in a chain of response, and will continue that journey tonight. Naomi'

I felt there should be a panel of text on display amongst The Family Event documentation that gave an account of what had happened on the day (above in gold document frames). The most suitable person to write this was one of the participants and so I asked my Uncle Gavin if he would oblige....  

'The Family “Do”

It started with a request from Naomi to clear a date in the diary – a long way ahead and slightly mysterious.  No further details emerged for a while as speculation mounted on what the day was about. My guess was that Naomi would make it fun and, in modern management speak, “challenging”. Part party and part workshop (perhaps?).

Another task was set when the invite arrived.  Could we bring food that invoked memories or strong feelings from our past? Of course we were happy to help with the catering but what could we bring that recalled the past (and why)?  

First impressions are so important. We remembered the room as the venue for a wedding celebration. We now found a very different space. I was immediately drawn to the strange tent like structure at the far end that dominated the room but weren’t allowed to explore until later. Tables laid out with board games and the food table increasingly groaning with all sorts of food as each group arrived with their contribution. And on top of this lots of relatives, friends and acquaintances to meet’n’greet.

We started by playing games as various groups were selected for the privilege of exploring behind the magic box.  What a simple way to relax the participants and encourage interaction.  It also acted as a diversion from the real business behind the magic box.

So expectations were raised as we geared up to visit the magic box. 

Then it was our turn.  My first impression was of a weird Aladdin’s cave.  Lots of boxes, textures, colours and sounds. To step into this cave you had to pass a dead rabbit (with guts on display).  Not real of course but sufficiently realistic and unsettling for most to comment on.  Then it became evident that this was a space to explore, touch, smell and start to imagine or question.

Lots of questions: What do you think this is? Feel this! Look what I have found! Have you read this? Everyone trying to make sense of what they found or relate the contents to their own experiences.  For me, Naomi had assaulted all our senses and let our imagination, (pre)conceptions and feelings show through.   The dead rabbit shocked some and fascinated others and probably provided the focal point of the magic box. But what was its significance and was it art?

But we couldn’t rest there.  Lunchtime arrived and we could now taste the array of different snacks and treats discovering why they were important to the people who brought them.  Many related to childhood memories and this was a common theme running through the day. The chocolate mousse rabbit mirrored the dead rabbit behind the magic tent - an uncanny coincidence

Then onto the afternoons “challenge” for each group to create their own work of art with an assortment of materials. This tended to separate the extroverts from the rest and provided more of a challenge for some. We soon discovered that making “Art” isn’t easy.  However when the time came to explain each creation the variety of presentations was impressive and very funny. 

How do I look back on the day?

Naomi did a fantastic job - a great all-day party for young and old (and all ages in-between) having a lot of fun combined with a workshop that made us work, think and react. And cleverly Naomi used all of our senses - sight, sound, taste, touch, smell – through a mix of activities to invoke memories and emotions.

I’m sure all that attended that day would agree that they came away enriched and enlightened – and for me that is the litmus test for “ART”.

Thank you Naomi.'

The many frames that were used for the documentation were sourced from a number of places, some from Levenshulme Antiques village. I carefully removed the pieces of unknown family histories that came with the frames, to make way for a piece of my own.

The framed labels accompanying the documentation were also written by the family....

'The Family Tree
by Marilyn, Ellen and Sally Greenfield plus Alastair Sweeney

The inspiration for our “family tree” came from Naomi’s installation art piece. The idea came from Ellen, my sister, having been looking at the memories, images and childhood toys. We made the decision to make a family tree including all the names of our family who attended the event. We used tissue paper for the trunk and found some brilliant paper the colour of sky, it was my idea to use real leaves from the garden and write the names on them.  We worked in our group quite well (with little disagreement).  We concentrated on our ideas and we also wanted to include the whole room full of family so they could also “relate” to our idea. Naomi’s art, which touched me the most personally, was the fake dead rabbit on the floor, which reminded me of my late pet rabbit.  I was very fond of my rabbit.  Therefore to include this memory I added dandelion leaves on to our family tree, which was my rabbit’s favourite food.  This related again to the favourite food we brought to the event.
 The Family Tree is a happy piece of work, which may not look incredible artistically, but my memories of my relations are much deeper.


To see all images from the exhibition


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